Pupil Referral Units (PRU)

What is a pupil referral unit?

PRUs are a type of school specifically set up to provide education for children who are unable to attend a mainstream or special maintained school or academy. Pupils are often referred to a PRU if they need a higher level of support than a mainstream school can provide. They are often called ‘Short-stay schools’ as a child’s placement there is not permanent.

Pupils who attend a PRU might be:

  • Permanently excluded from their mainstream school for behaviour reasons, or they may be at risk of permanent exclusion
  • diagnosed with special educational needs (SEN), or in the process of getting a diagnosis
  • experiencing social, emotional or behavioural difficulties, including problems with mental health issues, anger, school phobia or school refusal
  • experiencing severe bullying
  • suffering from a short- or long-term illness that makes mainstream school unsuitable
  • a new starter who missed out on a school place
  • pregnant or young mothers.

Some pupils will have all their lessons at a PRU, while others split their time between the mainstream school where they’re registered and a PRU.

PRUs are not special schools, and pupils who have more severe special educational needs or disabilities should not be sent to a PRU as a long-term solution.

Maintained schools have the power to direct a pupil off-site for education, to improve his or her behaviour (see section 29(3) Education Act 2002 and the Education (Educational Provision for Improving Behaviour) (Amendment) Regulations 2012).

If the school decides to use this power, they must: 

  • ensure that parents of children with EHCP’s are given clear information about the placement – why, when, where, and how it will be reviewed.
  • keep the placement under review and involve parents in the review;
    The regulations specify regular reviews but do not specify how often reviews must take place (that should be decided on a case-by-case basis). Reviews should be frequent enough to provide assurance that the off-site education is achieving its objectives and that the pupil is benefitting from it and 
  • have regard to guidance from the Secretary of State on the use of this power. “Alternative Provision – Statutory guidance for Local Authorities” (January 2013) at paragraph 41.

Why send a child to a PRU?

Surrey has a duty to provide a suitable full-time education to all children of school age. PRUs are funded by the local authority, and fulfil this obligation for children who, for whatever reason, can’t be accommodated in a mainstream school.

What will your child learn at a PRU?

PRUs don’t have to teach the full National Curriculum, but they should aim to provide a broad and balanced education that covers as much of the Curriculum as possible. The education provided should be on a par with that of mainstream provision including appropriate support to meet the needs of children and young people with SEN. A PRU should aim to teach the following subjects as a priority:

  • English
  • Mathematics
  • Science
  • Information Technology (Computing)
  • PSHE (Personal, Social and Health Education)

What are the benefits of a PRU?

Although attending a PRU is often seen as a last resort, it can be beneficial for pupils who are having difficulties at school.

PRU’s are generally staffed by highly qualified and experienced teachers, who have expertise in dealing with SEN, social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. Pupils often have access to support from professionals such as social workers, educational psychologists and counsellors, who can help them with their difficulties.

Class sizes are typically small, which allows pupils to have more one-to-one attention.

Rather than receiving a one-size-fits-all education, pupils will have an education plan and timetable designed specifically to meet their needs. Extra support with literacy and numeracy is available, and older students might divide their time between Curriculum subjects and vocational studies or work experience.

This means that pupils tend to be more motivated and confident, which in turn improves attendance and attainment.

What happens after?

Generally a PRU placement is seen as a short-term measure. Attendance at a PRU is often set for an agreed period of time for example 6 or 12 weeks. The aim is to reintegrate the child back into mainstream education as soon as possible.